Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lake Waikaremoana 3

Lake Waikaremoana 2

Lake Waikaremoana 2

Lake Waikaremoana 1

Just b4 xmas I went on a three day hike around the picturesque lake wiakaremoana with my former colleague Ian. Here are some piccies.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Some more venom on contemporary films

Another recent film that didn't impress me much (and yes, I am saying "didn't impress me much") with a Shania Twain-like twang, was "Slumdog Millionaire". It started off well, as a colourful and imaginative adventure, but descended into cliche and predictability by the end.

Today I saw an interview with the author of the novel on which the movie is based. He said the message of the story was "Sometimes you learn more about life by being street-smart". I thought this was strange and I didn't feel the story said that in a very credible way at all. While the main character's survival of his life to date certainly depended on his ingenuity and resilience, his success in the quiz show (aside from withstanding the torture between the days of the TV filming) was totally due to luck, or, if you like, fate.

So while there are heroic aspects of the character's life, there is also an element of passivity in him wining "Who wants to be a millionaire". He knows the answer to almost every question by improbable fortune rather than any formal education. Indeed, he even guesses the last answer.
There's some kind of anti-intellectualism going on here - a message, of comfort for some, that formal education is not of value - that its better to rely on luck than on your brain.

In some "moral narrative" sense the character "earns" the luck in the quiz show by surviving so much hardship in his life. It is a moral equation though that excuses the audience from being overly confronted by the reality of slum life in India - we get a voyeuristic taste of the extremes of Indian poverty, but with a nice sugar-coated ending so we can forget it as soon as the film is over.

The love story I thought was particularly prosaic - a damsel who is allowed distress (but not character devlopment) is rescued by a (rather emotionally one-tracked) knight in shining armour.

There are much worse films showing in the cinema than "Slumdog millionaire". But it is pretty lite stuff and, IMHO, not deserving of all the awards and praise it is receiving.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Good reasons not to see "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

I was going to entitle this entry: "Why you shouldn't see 'the curious case of benjamin button'"; however I thought this might have the effect of reverse psychology and actually prompt some people to waste their money on this oscar-self-conscious flick.

Perhaps the most concise and convincing reason not to see the film is that it has the same screen writer as Forrest Gump. Indeed, the film falls into the same formula of "extraordinary things happening to an ordinary person".

Benjamin Button himself remains a rather unformed character throughout the film. Brad Pitt tries to give an Oscar-worthy performance simply by saying all his lines slowly and quietly, hoping that special effects and make-up will do the rest. Apart from his prediliction of ageing in reverse, there is indeed little of note or interest or development of Benjamin Button.

We see this in so many Oscar-nominated films: an aspect of a character's life such as their "genius", their good luck, their supernatural power or the famous historical events that happen to them usurp any development or personality of the character. The character becomes a passive "blank slate" on which to paint hyperbolous, cliched, ultimately empty situations and events.

Everything about this film seems cycnically geared to the Oscar season. The actors either try too hard, or, in the case of Pitt, try too hard not to try too hard. The special effect budget was obviously huge, but the effects are used in such an underlined way that they distance the viewer emotionally instead of engaging them.

It is possible to use a supernatural gimmick to explore a complex theme with some profundity - you can even (or especially) do it in a comedy, as "Groundhog Day" demonstrated. Off course, the Oscar season avoids comedies like the plague and instead goes for the self-consciously serious - just the sort of film "Button" is.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Some three-word reviews of films I have seen recently.

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button": Oscar self conscious

"Slumdog Millionaire": Indian Forrest Gump

"Another gay sequel: Gays gone wild": niche market exploitation

"Alexander's Ragtime Band": brassy ethel merman